In this blog, let’s explore the best type of coatings for protecting, beautifying and prolonging the life of concrete floors and slabs.
Firstly, what is a concrete coating?
A concrete coating is a floor covering for basements, garages, warehouses, manufacturing plants, restaurants, cold storage, kitchens, stores and more. A good coating gives concrete a durable layer of protection against heavy traffic, abrasion, chemicals, and moisture exposure. It also beautifies the surface, simplifies maintenance and improves skid resistance.
So, what is the best coating for concrete?
Well, it depends… There is a huge selection of products on the market today for coating concrete, not to mention the individual preferences of the professionals who apply them. Manufacturers are aggressively advertising and promoting their products and through product innovation and development strive to meet market demands for newer formulations that are faster curing, more abrasion resistant, lower in harmful VOCs and adhere better to properly prepared surfaces. On top of this, there are many coating products with a profusion of decorative options, including a broad selection of mix-in pigments and other add-ins for achieving a fantastic look.
With so many options available, however, shopping around for the best concrete coating can be as daunting as navigating the tools aisle in a well-stocked Bunnings store. The number of choices is overwhelming, and each product will differ – at least to some extent – in terms of performance, ease of application, economy and appearance. The challenge is to find the most economical and practical solution among the variety of products on the shelf.
It is impossible to compare every concrete coating on the local market since there are hundreds to choose from. Instead, here are some of the most advanced products that maximize performance and are more user-friendly to install. These offerings typically cost more than their traditional counterparts but can be more affordable in the long run by saving installation time, allowing floors to be put back into service sooner and lasting longer. Some products also achieve special decorative effects, such as metallic or luminescent finishes.
The term “coating” is often used broadly to refer to just about any liquid or semi-solid material applied to cured concrete, including cement-based toppings and overlays, paints, and epoxy-aggregate systems. However, for this article, we’re not going to get too scientific.
The most commonly used concrete coatings today fall under or are hybrids of four basic polymer categories: epoxies, urethanes, acrylics and polyureas. Because of the chemical nature of polymer coatings, manufacturers will often tinker with the properties and molecular makeup of their products to improve their performance and provide other benefits, such as faster curing times or lower VOCs.
When comparing the attributes of various products, the first step is to look at the coating manufacturers’ data sheets and technical specifications. They are your best sources for performance and installation information. Many of these spec sheets are available from the manufacturers’ websites. You will also need to evaluate the surface you’re working with and make some important decisions regarding protection requirements, aesthetic goals, budget and the time frame for installation.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on epoxies and polyaspartics.
Epoxy coatings have been used for years on concrete floors in commercial settings, and more recently as a traffic-resistant decorative coating on residential garage floors. Many contractors like epoxies because they produce a long-lasting high-gloss finish with superior hardness and abrasion resistance.
However, despite their protective benefits, traditional epoxies have some drawbacks that can limit their use on certain projects, such as:
- Long concrete curing times before application (typically a minimum of 30 days)
- Loss of adhesion in the presence of moisture
- The tendency to yellow when exposed to ultraviolet light
Most traditional epoxies also are two-component systems that require mixing at the proper ratio right before use. To overcome some of these disadvantages, manufacturers have recently introduced advanced epoxies with greater permeability, better UV stability, faster curing times and more convenient single-component applications.
Several manufacturers now offer one-part ready-to-use epoxies that require no mixing before application. These user-friendly epoxies are said to compare in performance to two-part systems and are suitable for both residential and commercial applications, including garage floors, driveways, commercial showrooms, servos and restaurants. They resist hot-tire marks, chemicals, oil, grease and gasoline stains. They also are UV-stable and won’t yellow or chalk when applied to exterior slabs.
Most epoxy floor coatings are impermeable to moisture and can fail if applied to damp substrates or to slabs with high moisture-vapour emission rates. To help avert these moisture-related failures, breathable systems, that allow the passage of moisture vapour, have been developed. Some will even bond to damp substrates and to new concrete slabs after only four or five days of curing, making it ideal for fast-track projects.
Many epoxies require a minimum drying time of 24 hours before they can be recoated (depending on application temperatures and humidity conditions) and must cure for several days before they can accept traffic. But some new fast-setting epoxy coatings dry to the touch in just 20 minutes and reach thorough drying within 12 hours.
Note: All of these new epoxies are water-based and low in VOCs and odour. They also are available in pigmented finishes or can be tinted.
Polyaspartics (a type of polyurea) are the newest coating products to hit the market, and they are gaining in popularity because of their super-fast setting times. In fact, some manufacturers claim that their polyaspartic floor coating systems can be installed in less than a day, from start to finish, including the addition of decorative effects.
Although polyureas have been available commercially since the 1980s, polyaspartics are a more recent innovation with enhanced performance characteristics and easier installation. Beyond the advantage of allowing projects to be completed in record time, these floor coatings offer many other benefits, including:
- The ability to be applied to full thickness in one coat
- Greater abrasion and impact resistance than epoxy or urethane coatings
- The ability to be applied at high or low temperatures
- Excellent bonding characteristics and UV stability
They are suitable for both residential and commercial applications and are especially popular for garage floors, driveways, retail facilities, auto showrooms, warehouses and other slabs subject to heavy wear and tear.
One of the few drawbacks of these coatings is the cost since they tend to be more expensive than other concrete coatings. However, when you factor in the total cost of the scope of work, the extra expense can often be justified.
Barefoot Concrete provides one-day floor services: A three-coat decorative floor system for garage slabs, patios, walkways, driveways and pool surrounds. It has excellent penetration and bond strength to properly prepared surfaces and is resistant to hot-tire marks, commercial and household cleaners and swimming pool treatment chemicals.
All polyaspartics are two-component products and will require mixing before use. The potlife of some systems is as short as 20 minutes, which could limit their use when you need to coat large areas.
It’s also important to be aware that polyaspartics are impermeable and don’t transmit water vapour, so new concrete floors should be allowed to cure for at least 28 days before application. We recommend testing both new and existing floors for moisture-vapor transmission.
Barefoot Concrete has an experienced team that delivers epoxy and polyaspartic solutions for all types of concrete floors, call us today or contact us for more information.